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Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
picture: Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto picture: Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto
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picture: Iron Man: The Cinema of Shinya Tsukamoto

An interview with the author

Tom Mes is the author of the widely praised book Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike (also from FAB Press) and co-author, with Jasper Sharp, of The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film. He is the founder and editor of MidnightEye.com, the world's foremost publication on Japanese cinema. Mes also contributed to the anthology The Cinema of Japan and Korea, while his writing has appeared in print in numerous countries, including the U.S.A., U.K, Canada, France, Russia, Hong Kong and Holland. He also regularly contributes audio commentaries and liner notes to DVD releases of Japanese films worldwide.

Why did you decide to write this book? And why now?

I was very surprised that no one had ever done a book about Tsukamoto before, actually. He's been around for so long and has such a strong international following, especially among sci-fi and horror fans, that he seemed one of the most obvious candidates for book treatment. My second book The Midnight Eye Guide to New Japanese Film, which I co-wrote with Jasper Sharp, includes a chapter on Tsukamoto. For that I revisited all his films and was blown away by them all over again. They still have the same power as when I first saw them ten years ago. This really gave me the incentive to start digging deeper and I came up with the idea of doing a full book. Someone of his stature certainly deserves one, and since Tsukamoto only made eight films in the last fifteen years, all of which were easy to get hold of, the job certainly seemed manageable enough.

What's the approach you've taken in the book?

My book on Takashi Miike was largely analytical, which was very intentional. I felt that the discussion about him was becoming stagnant, so I wanted force a wedge into it by introducing a radically new point of view. But since every director is different, they all require a different critical approach. Tsukamoto is a real independent filmmaker, in the purest sense of the word: he finds funding by himself and produces his own films from his own scripts, with no outside interference. I felt it was very important to show the kind of context someone like him has to work in, how he can survive as an independent filmmaker. And he pretty much refuses to work as director-for-hire, he's very maverick and has been working the same way for his entire career. So that aspect of him was something I wanted to try and express too. As a result, the book became more about the background and production circumstances of his films, and it ended up a lot less focused on analysis.

How would you explain what sort of filmmaker he is?

If you were to put David Cronenberg and Ridley Scott in his Alien/Blade Runner period in a blender, let the results simmer on Tokyo asphalt, and raise it on an exclusive diet of Japanese monster movies, you would get something resembling Shinya Tsukamoto.

What are the defining themes in his films? He's often described as being heavily influenced by Cronenberg and Lynch, but how does his approach differ?

The Lynch comparison came about as a result of his first film Tetsuo: The Iron Man, which had a similar black-and-white, low-budget, industrial-surrealist feel to it, but Lynch hasn't been a big influence on Tsukamoto. Cronenberg on the contrary is a favourite of Tsukamoto's and you can see a lot of similarities between them, particularly in their fascination with the fusion of flesh and metal. But Tsukamoto works from a very Japanese context, so he talks a lot about the negative side effects of life in the metropolis of Tokyo. He sees city life, working office jobs all day, and spending hours commuting on overcrowded trains as numbing the senses and robbing people of their humanity. In his films he wants to wake up his countrymen in the most extreme ways possible.

How is Tsukamoto received in Japan compared to North America and Europe? I've heard he's more celebrated over here.

He has a core base of fans in both parts of the world, but even though he was very important for the international renown of Japanese movies, he is still seen as a kind of outsider at home. But it's true that he's gained more acclaim and won more prizes in North America and Europe than in Japan. Maybe it's because his work was quite close to what was happening in American sci-fi and horror in the 80s and 90s that he was so quickly embraced by North American and European audiences.

Interview by Dave Alexander
Special thanks to Rue Morgue magazine

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